It was all apologies and a couple of swallows of bitter regret. The Prime Minister, we were told, thanked his staff for their efforts at what he believed was a ‘work event’.
The cries of deceit and deception, betrayal and shame rebounded around the Commons.
At least Sue Gray, tasked with uncovering the truth behind the latest Downing Street shindig on May 20, 2020, at the height of restrictions imposed on all in the country, won’t need to ask him if he was there.
It’s a sorry state of affairs.
The Prime Minister told MPs he knows millions of people have suffered during the pandemic and knows the rage they feel with him and the government he leads when they feel the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.
Why it took a year and a half to realise that is another question. And the demeanour of the Prime Minister was far from the usual ebullient, confident, unflappable leader he believes he still is. He cut the figure of a man who knows he has let the country down. What will be equally as concerning for the Prime Minister is that there’s a growing number of his own MPs who sat quietly on the backbenches wondering if they continue to support their current leader, will their own positions in their constituencies come under threat.
And you wonder whether those casting the stones on Wednesday have safeguarded their own glass houses.
Mistakes can be made. He has now admitted his mistake. Say sorry for a genuine mistake and forgiveness is possible. But this goes deeper. It’s a matter of trust and responsibility and that seems to be lost on the person who is supposed to set the strongest example of all.
Trust has been broken before by members of this government, over similar parties held in Christmas 2020, over long country drives to test eyesight. While those storms were raging, the tale of the May 2020 garden party stayed locked behind closed doors.
A breaking of trust can be apologised for, but it is much, much harder to forgive.
Ask DUP Jim Shannon, left raw following an emotional day in the House of Commons on Tuesday, or any of those around the country with their own stories of personal loss and sacrifice over the last two years.
It should not be a case of ‘it’s my party and I’ll make you cry if I want to’, then say sorry about it later.
What it has all led to is the bumbling of Boris from crisis to crisis, with a punch drunk government led lurching along by a leader after one too many party nights at a time when the country needed better.
None of it is surprising. There’s a long history of those who set the standards for society falling well short of it themselves. Many of them did the decent thing and stepped aside having realised the error of their ways. Some from within this current government itself during the pandemic.
And you do wonder whether those who stood up to call on Boris Johnson to resign for the sake of the health message can put hands on their hearts and say they can stand by all they’ve done to ensure that message is followed.
“I have learned enough to know there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility,” Mr Johnson told the Commons.
“Number 10 is a big department with the garden as an extension of the office – which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus.
“And when I went into that garden just after six on the 20th of May 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.”
Did he gatecrash having not received his jolly invitation to ‘bring a bottle’?
“With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside,” he continued. Should he not have cancelled the invitations in the first place?
“I should have found some other way to thank them and I should have recognised that, even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance.”
The public schoolboy being scolded at the front of the class, clinging to a technicality.
Those who knew it was wrong sat silently on the benches behind their Prime Minister as the baying calls for resignation came thick and fast, broken, strategically perhaps, by carefully placed alternative questions to calm the mood of the room.
No smirks, no swagger from Boris minus the brash, but questions still hanging. How many more lapses in judgement can you have before judgment is made on you yourself?
He headed directly to the Commons tea room, perhaps seeking solace amongst friends. But the sight of a Prime Minister having to grovel for forgiveness from even his closest allies means the inquest into this party is not ending soon. And even the support of friends doesn’t last forever when the erosion of trust crumbles once and for all under a landslide.
One proviso to all this is that Mr Johnson has ridden out storms before. There will be something coming along to distract the public mind. He may just raise a glass to Prince Andrew in that regard.